David Crosby & Friends rock like it’s 1969 in Milwaukee
He’s not slowing down any time soon
Word by: Stacy L. Steele | Photos by: Lee Ann Flynn
For someone who claims he’s surprised he’s not dead by now, 77-year-old folk pioneer David Crosby proved to Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre that he’s still alive, kicking, and nowhere near considering retirement. Which is a good thing, because the majority of his crowd that night, as would be expected, were already-retired Boomers who were there to rock like it’s 1969.
And did they.
“David Crosby & Friends,” as it is billed, is actually David Crosby and his Sky Trails band, which features his son James Raymond on keyboards, Jeff Pevar on guitar, Man Leisz on bass, Steve DiStanislao on drums, and Michelle Willis on keyboards and vocals.
The show began with as nondescript of an entrance you’d ever see — no special warm-up music, no special lighting to enhance the mood — just Crosby and his band casually walking out on stage without any kind of fanfare. But when you’re music legend David Crosby, just by walking out on stage and being alive is enough to warrant a standing ovation.
They opened the show with Crosby, Stills, and Nash classic “In My Dreams,” which was highlighted by nice red lights and set the mood for the mellow-but-electric evening to come. After a few songs, he finally greeted the crowd and the self-deprecating old guy jokes began, with which he peppered show, tongue-in-cheek. Indeed, David Crosby is a funny guy. Even if you were a young whippersnapper of 40 in the crowd and not familiar with his music, you’d appreciate just listening to the guy talk to his audience. He’s a lot like Gallagher, but actually funny and no sledgehammer or watermelons needed to get a great reaction.
The bulk of Crosby’s show consisted of some of his most well-loved hits, regardless of which band he was in at the time. Halfway through the first set when they played CPR’s “At the Edge,” the current band really began to shine with some remarkable harmonies. If you’ve seen a lot of live music, it’s easy to tell if a band works well together or not, and the Sky Trails band was tight. It’s safe to say that this newer band of both old friends and new family members had a synergy on stage that did more than justice to old hits.
Another highlight was “Guinnevere” (from Crosby, Stills & Nash) that Crosby introduced by telling the crowd he’s never done the same way twice, “. . . not because I’m in a jam band, but because I can never remember how I did it last!” Cue laughs from the audience. The song began, and then Crosby abruptly stopped, saying he needed to start again because he accidentally started singing the second verse as the first, thus proving his point. He followed by more jokes about being old, and when the song started for the second time, all was forgiven. It was absolutely a stellar performance, all told.
Transitioning right into a hard-rocking “Long Time Gone,” he began the band intros and each member showcased their talents even more, and closing out the set was a hypnotic “Déja Vu.”
In the second set, Crosby & Friends debuted a couple of new songs that were very well-received by the audience, but you could tell the crowd was much more interested in hearing the more familiar stuff with one exception — when he handed the spotlight over to keyboardist Michelle Willis. David Crosby calling Willis one of his “favorite singers ever” is an amazing compliment in and of itself, but when she played her original song “Janet,” the crowd was unexpectedly blown away and on their feet.
Actually, there was a lot of being on your feet at this show — those who could stand did so with at least five standing ovations by the conclusion, which was an intense “Almost Cut My Hair.” After an extremely long ovation, Crosby & Friends finally came back out for the encore with the song everybody was waiting for — “Ohio.” It was a huge group singalong and a great ending to a timeless show.